From the Top and Carnegie Hall: The Big Break Finalists Have Been Announced!

As you probably know, along with Carnegie Hall we have been very busy with The Big Break – An online YouTube contest looking for the best young musicians in America. Today we are pleased to announced our 15 finalists – and invite YOU to vote for YOUR favorite performances now through December 14!

Finalists were drawn from a pool of hundreds of video submissions uploaded between October 18 and November 18 at . All classical musicians, the contestants ranged in age from 8-18 and participated on a variety of solo instruments including piano, bassoon, harp, voice, violin, cello, bass, marimba, and recorder. They hailed from all over the country.

Public voting on the top 15 finalists begins today at and ends on December 14. The Big Break’s grand-prize winner, selected by the public, will appear on an upcoming national radio broadcast of From the Top on NPR with host Christopher O’Riley. The grand-prize winner plus several runners-up will also perform at a Carnegie Hall Family Concert on April 9 in Zankel Hall, produced in partnership with From the Top and hosted by Mr. O’Riley. Big Break winners will be announced on or after December 15.

The Big Break finalists are:

Gideon Broshy (piano), age 16, New York, NY
Emily Brown (double bass), age 16, Myersville, MD
Samuel Casseday (double bass), age 17, Jacksonville, FL
Jennifer Cha (violin), age 14, Naperville, IL
Brannon Cho (cello), age 15, Short Hills, NJ
Michael Davidman (piano), age 13, New York, NY
Peter Eom (cello), age 15, Gilbert, AZ
Helen Gerhold (harp), age 14, Lansdale, PA
Nikita Haduong (violin), age 15, Henderson, NV
Jiyeon Kim (guitar), age 17, Cleveland, OH
Kate Liu (piano), age 16, Winnetka, IL
Ryan Norville (flute), age 17, Fort Myers, FL
Arianna Smith (viola), age 17, St. Charles, IL
Marcelina Suchocka (marimba), age 17, Chicago, IL
Kevin Sun (piano), age 17, Carmichael, CA

Each year, From the Top receives about a thousand applications from young classical musicians across the country wishing to appear on its radio and television broadcasts. This contest marks the first time that From the Top has opened that audition process to the public, inviting them to help identify their favorite performers. Carnegie Hall, with its deep commitment to programs that nurture young talent and encourage musicians to aspire to excellence, is happy to continue its partnership with From the Top, offering Big Break musicians the opportunity to perform on its popular Family Concert series.

Please check out the finalists and cast your vote by giving a “thumbs up” for your favorite performance. You can vote once a day per video – spread the word to your friends!

Arts Leadership in Abilene, TX

Last week, From the Top traveled to Abilene, TX to tape a very special radio show in the beautiful First Baptist Church. Read more about the show here.

The morning after the show, the fantastic five performers got together for the arts leadership orientation and explored the power of music to create positive change in the world. Many of the performers had powerful personal experiences and examples of music making a difference to share and all agreed on the importance of everyone, musicians or not, getting involved in their communities. They agreed:


1. Getting to know other young musicians and creating a connection
2. Sharing your talent and giving back
3. Inspiring others

The group named themselves Ranch 223  and had a fun making this video to introduce themselves and their arts leadership message. Check it out!

Big Break – Bravo to all the Contestants!

Bravo to the hundreds of young musicians who joined From the Top and Carnegie Hall’s Big Break contest. They all did a wonderful job preparing their entries, we couldn’t be more impressed – congrats to all! For the moment, please enjoy the gallery of submissions at, and give these young musicians a well deserved look!

We’ll be announcing finalists on Nov 29th and then it will be your turn to tell us who you want to see perform on From the Top’s radio show and at the Carnegie Hall family concert in Zankel Hall.

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 223 Abilene, Texas

First Baptist Church in Abilene

Hi everyone! We just got back from taping a show in Abilene, Texas, and it was an unforgettable experience. From the place we stayed to the venue we played, to the terrific kids and unexpected music, it was definitely one-of-a-kind! Special thanks to the folks at KACU Abilene Public Radio for their warm welcome and hard work to make such a great taping happen!

First, I want to tell you about our spectacular living arrangements. We stayed at the Sayles Ranch Guesthouses, a series of rustic cottages, each uniquely furnished in West Texas style, and featuring all sorts of antiques and offbeat touches, such as a room wall-papered entirely in beautiful old book covers and another textured in pennies! I learned that the quirky, but exceptionally cool, room I was staying in was actually a converted barn (I thought I had noticed the faint smell of hay in there).

The taping took place in the majestic First Baptist Church in Abilene, home to a brand new, world-class pipe organ that we were more than happy to help inaugurate. Now I do have a confession I should make here: truth be told, I have never been a big fan of organ music. Well, this show completely changed my perspective. We featured two of the best young organists in the country, and not only did they both play unexpected repertoire that got my attention in a truly great way, but we also featured a skit that showed off the huge range of sound the organ can produce.

Opening the show was 15-year-old organist Karen Christianson playing “Everyone Dance” by Calvin Hampton. Next up was cellist extraordinaire (and From the Top alum) Taeguk Mun, 16, who played Tchaikovsky brilliantly. Local piano sensation Halle Puckett, 12, took the stage next playing Etude in F major, Op. 72, No. 6 by Moritz Moszkowski. Following her was 18-year-old percussionist Austin Allen (who, we learned, is actually a descendent of the founder of the state of Texas)! He treated us to the piece “Ilijas” by Nebojsa Zivkovic. The show closed with 18-year-old organist Eric Fricke, who played his own arrangement of “Howl’s Moving Castle,” by Joe Hisaishi from the anime film of the same name. I caught the entirety of his performance on Flipcam for you during dress rehearsal. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Parents’ Perspective: Skipping School for the Sake of Music

For our fourth blog of The Parents’ Perspective we asked for both parent and reader feedback on which topic to discuss – skipping school for the sake of music, or dealing with stage fright and nerves. Both are great (and important) topics, but we had overwhelming interest in discussing the matter of skipping school for the sake of music, so that’s what you’ll read about today. We will talk about stage fright in a later post.

Being a parent of a young musician certainly isn’t easy, especially when confronted with the choice of sending your child to school or allowing them to compete in a competition that may further their musical career. Below are opinions, personal stories, and advice from parents of From the Top alums. There are many perspectives on this subject and we hope this provokes further conversation. Please feel free to comment below and keep the dialogue going.

At Times, Skipping School Was Ok For Us

Judy Merritt (Edward Merritt, double bass, Show 100)

If either of my children had to miss school for the sake of music, I always arranged with their teachers that the children could somehow get credit for the musical work; they always were required by us (the parents) to make up tests, etc. Missing/skipping school for the sake of music was simply okay with us, so long as all responsibilities were taken care of. He missed school only a couple times a year and it always seemed to be beneficial academically and musically.

Vicky Robbins (Sean Robbins, slack key guitar, Show 210)

Whenever Sean did take time off from school, it was always for the sake of music! It may have been for a special workshop with a master teacher or to perform. Another reason he missed a day of school was to provide Arts Leadership in his community by visiting 4th grade classrooms at a local elementary school. He talked about his instrument, played and answered students’ questions. Skipping school only happens for a good musical reason and it definitely makes him a better student, musician and person.

Susie Wuest (Eric Wuest, violin, Show 030)

Skipping school was never really an issue with Eric. There were a few times Eric was excused for a local concert and there was one year when I needed to arrange for Eric to take a NYS Regent’s exam at another school so that he could start the Tanglewood summer program on time. Fortunately, school was very easy for Eric so it was not hard for him to make up anything he missed. But generally he didn’t want to miss classes.

Achieving Balance Between Academics and Music is Necessary

Emmanuel Cabezas (Gabriel Cabezas, cello, Shows 128, 155, 192, and 217)

Both my wife and I, in concurrence with Gabriel, felt strongly that both schoolwork and music-related responsibilities should be honored and completed fully to the extent of one’s ability (all this while keeping social development active).

In missing school to pursue a music opportunity, we found that Gabriel learned other valuable lessons:

– A strong relationship developed between school administrators, teachers and Gabriel concerning the matter of keeping up with learning effectively, completing assignments timely and efficiently, and enjoying the school experience socially.

– A sound understanding of responsibility and accountability became part of Gabriel’s daily life. In order to perform, he had to keep up with his school-related work; and in order to attend public school, he had to prepare for his concerts efficiently.

– Gabriel’s organizational skills strengthened acutely as time passed and he learned the skills necessary to balance the scholarly duties with the music-related requirements of his life, and to eventually unite them fully into his current endeavor: continuing to learn and perform at a music conservatory.

Skipping for the sake of music, when necessary, actually prepared Gabriel for undertaking higher education and continuing his development as an aspiring musician.

Continue reading

From the Top Inspires an Abilene Elementary School Radio Project

Yesterday we recorded an episode of From the Top in Abilene, Texas, which will air the week of December 27. Our presence in the town actually inspired 2nd and 4th grade classes at Allie Ward Elementary School to put on their own radio project! You can listen to the podcast about this production by Zane Goggans from KACU here.

This semester Cynthia Ladyman’s 2nd grade class was focused on 1940’s history and culture – World War II, clothing, speech, and classical music. She thought a radio production like From the Top would be a fun and creative way to bring all of this learning together. Each member of her class was given a specific role to play – writers, reporters, production team, actors, etc, and along with the help of a 4th grade class, these kids put on a special radio project that included three talent groups from the school, a choir, vignettes, and a commercial for the school’s library.

In order to prepare, these students visited the KACU radio studios (the From the Top presenter in Abilene) to see how radio works in real life.

Ms. Ladyman says, “It came up that [the school board] didn’t think second graders could do this, but I said yes we can, and so we have worked very hard to do that!”

This project is a great example of how classical music and radio can be interesting to kids of all ages. “I think kids value what the teachers and parents value, and I think they need to be exposed early [to classical music],” Ms. Ladyman said in an interview with KACU.

This hands-on production was a challenge for the kids because it was so writing intensive and involved a lot of preparation, but as you can hear in the podcast, they seemed to really enjoy it!

Listening Guide: Show 221

Show 221 Performers

This week’s From the Top broadcast (Show 221) was taped in Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on Sunday, October 24, 2010. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Francesca Bass, 15, violin
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, No. 1 (Gypsy Airs)
By: Pablo de Sarasate

This is a really flashy piece, and it has a Hungarian flavor. There are numerous running passages, up-bow staccato, and beautiful melodic parts. So, it has a bit of everything that a violinist might want to show off. Since this piece is also known as “Gypsy Airs”, I find that I am able to imagine the ways of gypsies, which I can bring out in my interpretation.

This is probably one of the most virtuosic pieces I have played so far. I try to make playing it look easy; that puts the audience at ease and me at ease. I also want to look like I am having fun while playing this piece. Most of all, I want to get across the various moods in this piece. There is a moderate first section, a slow and beautiful part, and exciting fast part at the end. The hardest thing to nail in this piece is the first run, but I just have to tell myself that I can do it, which can be difficult.

Post Show Reflection: I could really feel the audience listening and everyone was so involved. I loved every second of my From the Top experience.

Kadar Qian, 13, piano
Aria and Variations 1 & 5
By: Johann Sebastian Bach

As the Goldberg Variations come to mind, I realize how connected Apple is to the structure of the piece. First, the Aria sings, acting like the big idea of Apple computer, which takes a simple theme of making insanely great products, and produces variations that “sync” with it- iPod, iPhone, and iMac. Each variation has it’s own mood, tone, and color, which represents the character of each product and its different reasons for being. To conclude, the Aria repeats itself, reminding us about how unexpected the future of Apple will be.

The Goldberg Variations is something very exceptional, for it includes much more counterpoint, polyphony, crossing of hands, and less dynamic indications than any piece I have ever played from later periods of history. Examples of counterpoint and polyphony include variations 3,9, and 10, canons and a fughetta, respectively. Crossing hands is also very difficult but unique on the piano, and one finds many examples of this in the Goldberg Variations. It is important to know that the Goldberg Variations was written for harpsichord that often had two manuals, which would have made crossing of hands easier to achieve. Lastly, dynamics were not possible for harpsichord, so there are no dynamic indications in the printed score, which allows more room for interpretation, something not seen in other pieces. From this knowledge, we see that the Goldberg Variations are a one of a kind work of art.

Muhan Zhang, 17, erhu
Sai Ma & Lady Lan Hua-Hua, Shanbei Folksong
By: Huang Haihuai

Sai Ma is a crowd-pleasing piece that I started very close to the beginning of my career as an Erhuist. I think one of the interesting points about this piece is that it runs so contrary to the stereotypical depiction of Chinese people; while some view Chinese culture as the “… scenery” of the Dynasty periods and others thinks of cheap Chinese food; Sai Ma runs contrary to that air. In its wild but grateful sound Sai MA earn its Chinese name “Racing Horse”. Lady Lan Hua-Hua is a piece that talks about the tragic story of a Chinese lady who, as a result of being unable to choose her own marriage commits suicide. It highlights the slow and more poignant sides of the Erhu, which is one of its highlights.

Sai Ma is a very unique piece in the emotion it tries to instill; wild galloping horses in a boundless plain. For me, showmanship and the correct aura are the things I go for primarily; the analogy I enjoy is, when you see a train coming at you, you don’t stop to think about the paint job or the interior decorating. Keeping the suspense and energy constantly driving is undoubtedly the hardest part of this piece.

Baldvin Oddsson, 16 trumpet
Nocturne from Concerto for Trumpet
By Henri Tomasi

Post Show Reflection: The second movement of the Tomasi has always been a part of me since I heard for the first time. It’s both slow and fast. My experience being on From the Top was wonderful – Jordan Hall was amazing and Christopher O’Riley is an amazing musician! I am very thankful for this opportunity.

PALS Children’s Chorus
Who is the East
By Eleanor Bragg
Singing this Piece
By Bruce Adolphe

Alysoun Kegel Response (conductor):
I love performing the Bruce Adolpe because I get to see all of the kids act in addition to singing. It’s fun to sing a piece about what we are doing. It’s funny to pit the sections against each other “Who Is the East” is wonderful because of the colorful chord clusters.

For both of the pieces it’s exciting because I know the composer. It’s inspiring and motivating to work on something that was created by someone you know. Both pieces are hard to tune- the Adolphe has some acrobatic laps and the Bragg is very exposed.

Eleanor Bragg, 13 voice
Who is the East
By Eleanor Bragg
Singing this Piece
By Bruce Adolphe

Post Show Reflection: Being on From the Top was exciting and fun because PALS wonderfully performed the piece I wrote for them and we also performed “Singing this Piece,” which is one of my favorite songs we have sung in PALS. I am really proud of the other kids in PALS for how well we sang both pieces, since both songs are very difficult in their own ways. I also had a lot of fun during the interviews, and I enjoyed getting to know the other performers on the show. I look forward to spreading my musical and From the Top experiences to my community and sharing memories with the other kids in PALS.


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